Monday, January 05, 2009

These are my people 

A rather sleepy day here, as I'm en route back to St. Cloud from the American Economic Association meetings in San Francisco this weekend. Most of the weekend was spent in a hotel room interviewing, yet again. I met many fine young economists doing exciting things in labor economics. One enjoyable part of the interview process is how many new things I learn.

But the best part is the anthropology of the profession. I've mentioned before the game I played with the son of one of my colleagues, called "spot the economist." It's not very hard. Most of my tribe walk around with their badges from the conference hanging on their collars, even when they are out to dinner miles from the conference hotel. Four such bands of merry economists were spotted at one place down on the pier Saturday night. You just shake your head. In general economists drink beer; at an Indian restaurant last night I saw five tables of economists (two with their tags still around their necks) and fourteen beer bottles. Yes, one was mine. When in Rome...

Another group I saw was gathered watching a pro-Palestinian protest wandering up Market Street Friday night, as I was going to see a friend at the Marriott. As the group of protesters (a blend of people in keffiyehs, old military jackets, and seemingly airdropped extras from Three's Company) marched by, three blue blazer, Oxford-shirted nerds are engaged in a debate about monetary policy. I don't think it bothered them that, like me, they couldn't cross the street. They were just going to work this out on the sidewalk.

The best spotting, however, was saved for a 24-hour cafe that I love that was between my hotel and the conference hotel. It has a counter. If you come in solo, the owners request you sit at it and leave the tables for the twos and threes. Sure enough, the breakfast counter was full from 6:15 to 7:30 on the day I was there. (The help wasn't thrilled that I took up a seat for 75 minutes, but I talked a lot with them; none of the others did.) All were already in the blue blazer, drab tie and Oxford. Most had a Wall Street Journal under their arms (the hotels run out of the complimentaries by 7:30.) And this cafe, run by a Greek family, was oblivous to it all.

BTW, they have the best feta omelette I've ever had.

Last observation before I get on the next plane: Begging was in my opinion down from my previous trips. I don't think that's a good sign. You beg when you think there's money to get. You don't stand out with a cup if there's no return on the investment of your time. More of them nowadays seem to have decided to upgrade to street art by standing perfectly still, pretending to be statues. Sorry, but statues don't have stubble.

Back tomorrow; have a great afternoon. Go wish Ed congratulations on his new grandchild.